In general, reviewers praise Sons and Lovers, though when doing so, they just as often point out its shortcomings. A writer for the The Saturday Review, for example, gives the novel this backhanded compliment: “The sum of its defects is astonishingly large, but we only note it when they are weighed against the sum of its own qualities.” A reviewer for the New York Times Book Review has reservations with the novel’s style, writing in an essay titled “Mother Love,” “It is terse—so terse that at times it produces an effect as of short, sharp hammer strokes.” However, the same writer calls the book one of “rare excellence.” Writing almost a decade later in 1924, in her essay “Artist Turned Prophet” for The Dial, Alyse Gregory asserts that Lawrence is at his very best in Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Twilight in Italy. In these works, Gregory argues, Lawrence’s “febrile and tortured genius flows richly and turbulently. Every passing stir upon his sensitiveness is passionately or beautifully recorded.”
Predictably, the novel also caught the attention of the psychoanalytic community. In his essay “Sons and Lovers: A Freudian Appreciation” written for The Psychoanalytic Review, Alfred Booth Kuttner uses Freud’s psychosexual theory of the oedipal complex to explain the choices Paul Morel makes. This approach, like many of Freud’s theories themselves, was later widely attacked as being reductive. More recent criticism of the novel has drawn on the theories of Jacques Lacan, among others. Earl Ingersoll, for example, in his essay, “Gender and Language in Sons and Lovers,” argues that a Lacanian approach to the novel is more productive than the Freudian psychoanalytic approach critics such as Kuttner have taken. Exploring the relationship between language and the characters’ interactions, Ingersoll charts Paul’s maturation as a movement from “the text of the unconscious associated with the mother to the empowerment of metaphor associated with the Name-of-the-Father.” Ingersoll links highbrow English with the mother and lowbrow with the father.